How working smarter, not harder, may be the key to better, more affordable oncology care.

The Future of Cancer Diagnostics

Sep 25 2020

Few have been fortunate enough to completely escape the always overwhelming, and often tragic, impact of a cancer diagnosis. Whether it visits you, a close family member, dear friend or wave-across-the-fence neighbor, cancer has a power all its own to destroy, or even at its best, disrupt lives.

Which is why the disease has been the focus of so many efforts to improve diagnosis and treatment, including with Abbott. As one of the world leaders in diagnostics, Abbott is determined to help lead in the ongoing efforts to increase the pace of innovation in cancer diagnosis.

Abbott has been actively involved in cancer diagnostics for many years but is now looking forward to a future in which new medical innovations, working in concert with one another, hold the possibility of great advancement.

Dr. Agim Beshiri, Senior Medical Director, Medical and Scientific Affairs, Diagnostics at Abbott, is optimistic about the potential breakthroughs that may soon become available. "We have a vision for the future in which many of the roadblocks that cancer places in front of us, can be removed or reduced. We want to take what we know now - that we aren't dealing with a single type of cancer, but a couple hundred types - and improve patient care through innovation over the next 10-15 years."

Many factors play into what makes cancer so difficult to properly and fully diagnose and then treat. There are issues of accessibility, cost, risk, patient behavior and more. Particularly when it comes to certain cancers where early detection is difficult.

One example of cancers that often get detected at later stages is lung cancer. A person may end up diagnosed with lung cancer because they were in an auto accident, had a chest x-ray, and that is what identified the small nodule that ends up being a tumor. Others are detected when symptoms begin and they are further along in the disease progression.

"Our goal is to maintain the incidence of good fortune and increase that of great science," said Dr. Beshiri. "Right now, we have a limited ability to sense a tumor early on. By the time a tumor is noticeable it may already be too late. The current standard of practice is to biopsy the tissue, which is invasive act, not easily accessible for many people, and can injure the patient. Also, we are likely to use imaging technology to further assess the patient, with concerns for radiation exposure, medical costs, etc. In addition, patients do not like biopsies and may put off having them. Under any circumstances, we are too often seeing patients further along in their disease progression than we'd like and using very invasive procedures to learn more."

Early detection is key in treatment of many diseases but perhaps none more than cancer where knowing more, and sooner, directly reduces mortality and morbidity rates.

One important area of ongoing research is the idea of a "liquid biopsy," a term that Dr. Beshiri notes is not yet a term of art for the medical community, but which describes the possibility of using blood draws and currently available diagnostic assays to optimize the information that can be gleaned about the patient or disease.

"Imagine a 30 second blood draw at a local lab or the doctor's office provides the medical information needed to diagnose cancer. It would be a paradigm shift."

Another area where healthcare professionals could see advancements in personalized medicine with the use of technology, such as artificial intelligence.

"We are starting to use AI with diagnostic imaging. We are exploring the same thing in the diagnostic assay space, where labs could take individual tumor markers and combine the results using an algorithm to generate a more specific approach to manage individual patients," said Dr. Beshiri.

"The science could eventually be used to screen patients before they are symptomatic. This least-invasive diagnostic approach could allow for safer diagnostic techniques, increased patient compliance, reduced costs, earlier detection and ultimately drive better patient management and outcomes."

While more research and advancements are needed for such life-changing technology, we are eager to combine today's science with tomorrow's possibilities to meet this vision.


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